Blog Archives

Racism and Jefferson County

Once again race is part of the national conversation this weekend based on comments President Trump made regarding NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. For those of who are white the tendency can be to look away and try and rationalize that the issue can’t be as big as they are making it out to be. Or we can get angry that the players aren’t respecting the flag or our country.

I would recommend the harder option. For white folks like myself, the harder option is to listen and dig deep to find the elements of racism that are all around us. There is a racism that is inherent in the systems around us.

Here’s a video on how systemic racism shows itself:

We can explain away racism and say it isn’t in our community, but it is. We have to own up to our own biases around race. How do I react differently to a black man walking down my street than a white man doing the same thing? I grew up in Indiana in a very white elementary and junior high school. Then we moved to Littleton, Colorado and I attended a very white Arapahoe High School. Then my college experience at Taylor University in Indiana was once again very white. How do these experiences impact me and my views on race?

We live in a county that is 80% white (2010 Census) and our county does have a racist past. Jefferson County was the place of major KKK rallies in the 1920s. Jefferson County grew in the 1960s as Denver Public Schools started busing students and white families fled to our county.

How does the whiteness of Jefferson County and the racism of the past impact our county today?

Our local schools in Edgewater are 80% Latino. We have heard people in the neighborhood call our schools “brown schools.” Our students hear racist comments at sporting events at other schools in the county. Our daughter Anna heard racist comments made toward her Latina friends at a Young Life camp this summer. Edgewater is 45% Latino (2010 Census) but all our City leaders are white. All the Jeffco School Board members are white. How do people of color have a voice in white leadership structures?

We need to start a conversation around race in Jefferson County. How does race impact school choice and education in our county? How many of our teachers and school leaders are people of color? How does race impact what schools are renovated and which ones are not? How do we encourage local and county leaders who aren’t white?

The conversation starts with looking at ourselves and reflecting on our own racial beliefs and prejudices.

Racism is alive and well in the United States and Jefferson County. Let’s start talking about it.

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Jeffco Schools and the Search for Leadership

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I am a parent of two daughters in a Jefferson County elementary school. My wife is a paraprofessional at that school. I substitute teach in Jefferson County Schools on occasion. The nonprofit I lead trains and mobilizes reading tutors to work with K-3rd grade students who struggle in reading.

Though I am not a Jeffco graduate myself (Go Arapahoe Warriors!), I care deeply about Jeffco Schools and want to see all 85,000 children succeed in school and in life.

Since the election of three conservative Board of Education members in November and the early resignation of Superintendent Cindy Stevenson this weekend, things are starting to get interesting.

The divisive climate of politics has become local and it is very hard to stay in the middle. The camps are forming. Either you are supportive of the new board majority or you are not. You are with the unions or you are not.

The sad part is that many of us are in the middle. We don’t think charter schools are the magic antidote for education and we support our neighborhood schools.

But we also think that education is due for some reform. Any organization or company needs to remain on the cutting edge to innovate and keep ahead of a changing culture.

I also believe in education innovation when I look at our Edgewater schools. At our three Edgewater schools, over 90% of the children receive free or reduced lunch because of poverty in their families. Yet when you compare the test scores at these three schools with three schools in southwest Littleton where we used to live, you see a big achievement gap.

This is a moral wrong. Children growing up in poverty have every right to a great education. The achievement gap should not exist yet in reality it does.

We have some great teachers and school leaders here in Edgewater but we can do better. I believe that if we can rally our community around our schools and change the education paradigm, we could see the achievement gap bridged.

Continuing to do things the way we always have done it doesn’t cut it anywhere. My daughters’ friends deserve better. Don’t lower your expectations just because we are poor. Right now a Jefferson (our local high school) graduate is on the Colorado Supreme Court, another is a Congressman and yet another is the bodyguard for Peyton Manning. With a great education, imagine where the next Jefferson High graduate might end up.

So circling back to the events of the weekend, I am frustrated on many levels with what happened. What I am most frustrated with is that the focus is now away from the 85,000 kids in our district. Union members are spreading fear and rumors. The three board members are demonized and any change they bring up is automatically thrown out. And because this new majority is silent on their agenda, then people assume the worst.

Finding common ground is possible. I’ve seen it happen in Jeffco Schools in the last month. I am part of the Choice Enrollment Steering Committee and have seen people from different education philosophies work together for 85,000 kids in the district. We sit down and listen to each other without jumping to conclusions. We have built relationships and stay focused on the task that unites us.

To each of the current Jeffco Board of Education members, I implore you to lead and focus the district on the common good of 85,000 children. To the Board majority, build bridges and start to dialogue in public about your ideas for the district. Board President Ken Witt has already started to do this by appearing on KHOW on February 11 (listen here). To the unions in Jeffco, don’t fall to the level of spreading fear and speculation. To quote the wise Yoda, ““Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

What we need right now in Jefferson County Schools is a leader.

Someone to unite our community around the common good of 85,000 children with hopes and dreams.

At this point that leader needs to be one of you sitting on the Board of Education.

Ken Witt. Julie Williams. Lesley Dahlkemper. John Newkirk. Jill Fellman.

Which one of you will step up and lead?

New Venture: Edgewater Collective

Ever since we moved to Edgewater, Colorado we have seen our small, one mile by one mile city as our “mission field.” We enrolled our daughters in our neighborhood school and began to network and build relationships. As we did this, we noticed a number of different needs in the community.

All three schools in Edgewater are Title I schools and over 85% of the students are on free or reduced lunch. The test scores are lower than those in the suburbs but they are improving. The teachers and staff are excellent yet some in the community just look at test scores and the schools suffer a bad rap. So I decided to network with other community leaders are start a project called Support Edgewater Schools to improve the image of our local schools and rally Edgewater around our schools.  Read the rest of this entry

Here and Now: Loving Our Parish

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Recently our little city of Edgewater just to the west of Denver was hit with a rash of graffiti. I first noticed marks of a night of illegal art on some hanging sculptures in the yard of a house we pass each day on the way to school. In recent months there have been at least 60-70 victims of graffiti. It’s hard to walk around Edgewater and not notice graffiti.

Teenagers in their boredom have left their mark on this city by defacing their neighbors’ homes with graffiti. Older neighbors fear for their safety as they believe graffiti is linked to gang behavior.

How are we leaving our mark?

Edgewater is our neighborhood; our parish. Parish is a seldom used word today but years ago it meant the territory or area assigned to a specific priest. That priest would be responsible for the pastoral care of that geographic area. The word parish was used most in Catholic circles.

Though the church I serve is located in a different neighborhood within a mile of Edgewater, our family is focused on deepening our roots in this neighborhood. Our kids go to school here and a lot of our family life revolves around this city that covers less than a square mile.  Read the rest of this entry

Praying for the Safe Return of Jessica Ridgeway

Over the last few days in the Denver metro area, the focus of the news has been on the disappearance of a ten year old girl, Jessica Ridgeway. She was walking to school and never made it there. As a parent this makes my heart break. Imagine sending your daughter to school and then she disappears. This is every parent’s greatest fear.

Jessica attends an elementary school to the north of where we live in and she is in the same school district as our girls. So we are receiving email correspondence from Jefferson County Schools as it relates to Jessica’s disappearance. We pick up our daughters from school each day and walk them home. In the past some kids walked home without their parents and now some of these parents are now picking up their kids themselves.

A horrible incident like this causes us as parents to think twice about the safety of our children. As followers of Christ, we still struggle with fear but we know that God ultimately is the only one who can protect our kids. God knows where Jessica Ridgeway is right now. So we pray. We pray for Jessica’s safe return. We pray for Jessica’s parents and family as they struggle through these days without their daughter.